If you want to kill a whitetail this fall, knowing where to go is key. And if you know where the deer are, your chances of killing a deer — any deer — are greatly increased.
White-tailed deer hunting opportunities are plentiful throughout the Magnolia State, so your odds of bringing home the venison are excellent, particularly if you spend time in one of the counties or on a tract of public land whose deer densities are high.
That in mind, Mississippi Game & Fish went to two sources to find out where hunters have a good shot at bagging a whitetail. First, we talked with Chad Dacus, deer program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, to get his statewide perspective. Then we went to the most recent report from the MDWFP’s deer program for hard numbers on where hunters have consistently taken deer in recent times.
Statewide, the deer herd is clearly in excellent shape. “We look really good for this fall,” Chad Dacus said. “Last year we had a record acorn crop in Mississippi, and there were still acorns on the ground long after deer season was over. So food quality and quantity statewide was really good.”
The one exception Dacus pointed to was extreme northeast Mississippi. In April, a late freeze there damaged a lot of the acorns.
“That’s the one spot where the acorn crop didn’t carry on into the year,” the coordinator said. “The rest of the state? Everything looks good.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how the flooding in the Mississippi River, especially inside the levees in the south Mississippi Delta, will affect fawn recruitment for this year.”
The water there did not begin to recede until late May, and then the Midwest was buffeted with new rounds of flooding in June. “Because of the flooding there may be some fawn recruitment issues in some parts of the state, particularly in the south Delta region,” Dacus warned. “Any of the deer that were there before the flood will return to areas where they were previously.”
Another factor was summer browse production in the area. In areas where the water remained, the amount of available food likely will be lower this year than it has been in the past.
“I don’t expect there to be much effect that we will notice this year, ” Dacus said with regard to deer numbers, “but we could notice it in future generations because of a possible reduced fawn crop. The one place I think we’re going to see a little reduction in antler production is in the 1 1/2-year-old age-class, just because those deer were 8 or 9 months old when they went through this stress. They could show some lack of antler production this year, but I don’t expect to see any decline in the older age-class animals this year.”
Based on that outlook, many sites should prove good for hunting. “There are a number of places that have traditionally been good producers,” Dacus said. “One is the south Mississippi Delta. The area around the Big Black River bottom is another one. This area extends through seven counties, and I’d put that area on a per-acre basis up against any place in the nation — it’s that good.”
Another region Dacus suggested is the Noxubee County area. “Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge is there,” he noted. “Around that area you have not only Noxubee NWR, but also John W. Starr WMA and Choctaw WMA and the Tombigbee National Forest. There’s a tremendous amount of public land available to hunt in that part of the state that traditionally has had some fairly exceptional deer.”
Any of the national wildlife refuges in the Delta area should be good bets for deer, too. “The one thing about some of those areas, and even the WMAs in the south Delta, is that some of those are draw hunt only areas,” Dacus pointed out. “So hunting on some of those areas has a very reduced availability.”
One other thing that the coordinator noted: The minimum antler size on all state WMAs is now above the state’s legal antler criteria. “A legal buck must have 4 or more points total,” he emphasized. “Our management areas are all different. The majority of our Delta areas require a 15-inch inside spread or an 18-inch main beam. It used to be just Delta and ‘other,’ but now that we have some 15-inch and 18- inch areas across the state. Most WMAs are going to be a 12-inch inside spread or a 15-inch main beam.”
But at Mahannah WMA, which is in the south Delta area, it’s actually a 16-inch inside spread or a 20-inch main beam, Dacus added. In other words, check the regulations on the WMAs before you go.
BY THE BOOK
A look at the 2006-07 installment of the Mississippi Deer Program Report will yield the questing hunter some reliable statistics on where deer were taken two years ago, the most recent year for which data are available. Although this provides no guarantees about where hunters can kill a deer, it does provide a look at WMAs and counties that have proven track records of giving up deer.
One significant note about the WMAs listed here: Several WMAs posted better hunter success rates than did the ones listed here. However, those WMAs offer draw hunts, so not just anyone can walk up and go hunting on them. Instead the focus is on the tracts where you can actually get access.
Copiah County WMA tops the list of public tracts containing plenty of deer. “There are a lot of deer on the property, and there are some good deer on the property,” said deer program biologist Chris McDonald. “It’s a very good place to hunt, but there’s also a lot of hunting activity on the area, so you will be competing with other hunters to find a location. It’s probably one of the most hunted areas we have, on a per-acre basis, but for the acreage there’s a lot of game.” McDonald went on to describe the area as a mix of pines and hardwoods in which many food plots are found.
Deer program biologist Lann Wilf said that Hamer WMA, which is No. 2 on the list, has a strong whitetail herd. “We need antlerless deer removed,” he emphasized. “There are a lot of deer on this WMA.”
Lake George WMA, No. 3 in the rankings, can boast very high deer numbers. “During the first two weeks of the rifle season, hunters can go in and kill a doe a day,” Wilf offered. “And it’s not uncommo
n to have a 150- or 160-pound doe come from there. The area has a lot of opportunity, but it’s hard hunting, because it’s real thick, and there aren’t any trees you can climb.”
No. 4 on the list is Malmaison WMA, which has been chronically overpopulated for a long time. “There’s a certain portion of the season that’s does only,” said deer program biologist William McKinley. “If you harvest a doe during that first early gun season, you’re eligible to come back and hunt for a buck during the peak of the rut. After that short time of buck hunting for only those who’ve killed a doe, it then opens to the general public.”
An increase in the number of does taken from the area and changes in the antler restrictions are producing much better bucks than in the past.
Listed at No. 5: Nanih Waiya WMA. “This is one of the more under-tapped management areas we have because of limited access through the Pearl River,” McKinley said. “If you’re willing to take a boat, there are a tremendous number of deer on Nanih Waiya. But water definitely controls the access. To adequately hunt this area you need waders or a small canoe or pirogue.”
Composed of three noncontiguous properties, John Starr WMA comes in at No. 6. “The deer kill on this area has been outstanding for the past few years,” McKinley asserted.
No. 7 among the public tracts, Bienville WMA is an excellent area for deer. “Most of the area that I’ve been on is older-age mature pine timber,” said deer program biologist Amy Blaylock. “There are food plots on it, so there’s additional nutrition for the deer.”
Chris McDonald said that as Marion County WMA — No. 8 on the list — is in a lower-quality soil region, deer living on the tract might not be as large as are those at some other areas. “However, for the soil region, the area is very good,” he said. “The habitat is managed very well, and that’s why we’re seeing the deer numbers we’re seeing on that area.”
Tallahala WMA may be ninth on the list, but it’s far from a poor choice for hunters. “It’s similar to Bienville WMA in terms of habitat,” Amy Blaylock noted.
|TOP COUNTIES FOR BAGGING A DEER STATEWIDE|
|2006-2007 DEER MANAGEMENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAM|
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